Two spring trainings ago, the Phillies introduced Bryce Harper as the newest member of the Phillies organization, which sent a message that the Phillies were making serious strides to be competitive again. Expectations have been high for the Phillies since then, who have not made the playoffs since 2011.
Following a disappointing 60-game 2020 season, the Phillies entered the offseason with a lot of question marks. After a productive winter by the organization, the Phillies prepare to head down to Clearwater, Florida to begin spring training, starting on Feb. 16.
However, many decisions still need to be made by manager Joe Girardi and the front office this spring. Here are the five biggest questions heading into spring training for the Phillies.
- Who will be the closer, if anyone?
The most obvious weakness for the Phillies last year was their bullpen, which was historically bad. They have made a few acquisitions this winter to fix that weakness, none bigger than signing pitcher Archie Bradley to a one-year six-million dollar contract. Now the question is: who will close?
The ninth-inning job candidates for this upcoming year seem to be between Bradley and Hector Neris. Neris has been inconsistent in the closer role and comes off a year where he had a 4.67 earned run average and blew three saves out of eight opportunities. Bradley has expressed that he doesn’t care what his role will be, but he has ample experience pitching in the ninth, making him a viable option.
We’ll see if Bradley or Neris can impress this spring to win the job, or if Girardi decides to roll without a named closer and play it by game.
- Was Bradley’s velocity decline a fluke?
Fastball velocities are a crucial part of baseball now. Every team needs multiple members that throw in the upper 90s with command, along with a dominant secondary pitch. According to Baseball Savant, Bradley had an average fastball velocity of 96.3 mph back in 2017. Since then, he’s had a drop in that number, and his average fastball velocity was 95.5 mph in 2019 before a major decline to 94.1 in 2020.
In his introductory press conference, Bradley was asked about his velocity decline.
“I had a little drop in velo, but I really didn’t notice a ton of drop in success. I’m still able to compete, my change up has been a huge addition to me and I truly believe full season that it should tick back up and [be] ready to go,” Bradley said.
This question might not be completely answered by the end of spring, but with a regularly scheduled offseason and spring training, Bradley may show that he can still impress on the radar gun.
- Can Scott Kingery win a starting spot?
Scott Kingery was irrefutably one of the biggest disappointments of the 2020 season, as he hit for a 0.159 average and only drove in six runs. At the end of the day, this is the same guy the Phillies signed until 2026, which sends a clear message that Kingery is a part of the Phillies future.
He has a lot to prove this year, and it will start in spring training. If he has a good spring and starts the regular season on the right foot, he could replace Jean Segura at second. Or he could win the starting spot in centerfield. Regardless, the Phillies need Kingery to get back on the right track if they are going to be successful.
- What will Spencer Howard’s role be?
There’s been a lot of speculation on what Spencer Howard’s role will be this year. Howard has been limited with his workload for a couple of years through the minors and into the majors, so there are concerns about inserting him into the rotation for a full 162-game season.
Still, his future in baseball will be as a starter, so they can’t put him in the bullpen and keep him there. It will be interesting to see where Giradi puts Howard to begin the season, whether that’s in the rotation on an innings limit or in the bullpen as a long relief arm.
- Who will be the fifth starter in the rotation?
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are the Phillies’ one and two in the rotation respectively. Zach Eflin seems to be the third man. After that, however, the rotation has a lot of question marks. Hypothetically, we’ll put Howard in the rotation, and he is the fourth starter.
That leaves Vince Velasquez and Matt Moore competing for the fifth spot, along with a slim chance Chase Anderson wins the spot. Those three will be battling this spring for that fifth slot in the rotation (and maybe the fourth as well, if Howard is moved to the pen). Or the front office could bring in one more free-agent starting pitcher to solidify the back end of the rotation before opening day.
It will be a critical spring for the Phillies this year as they prepare to compete in a loaded and difficult NL East. Lots of decisions are ahead for Joe Girardi, Sam Fuld and Dave Dombrowski as they try to turn the tide and get back to October baseball—and it all starts in the spring